Olympic rowing at Tokyo 2020: Top five things to know

Who are the top rowers at the Tokyo 2020 Games in 2021? When and where will Olympic rowing take place? What is the history of rowing at the Olympics? Find out here.

By Ashlee Tulloch
Picture by 2016 Getty Images

Rowing has a long and rich history in the Olympics, making it one of the oldest sports to be contested at the Tokyo 2020 Games in 2021.

The sport debuted on the Olympic programme in 1900 in Paris, and has been part of every edition since. It was supposed to take place at the first modern Olympic Games in Athens but the event was cancelled because of bad weather.

Rowers generate power using oars to move a boat down a course. Technique is imperative as athletes push against the water, but must create as little water resistance as possible. Rowers compete as individuals, pairs, and teams of four, or eight. Team boats are all about synchronization to maximise speed.

But who are the top contenders? When will competition take place, and where will it be held? Ever wanted to know more about the sport’s Olympic history? Here is our guide to the top things to know about Olympic rowing.

Top Olympic rowers at Tokyo 2020

At the Tokyo 2020 Games in 2021, the top rowing contenders come from countries which vary in size, but not in power.

From Great Britain and Germany, to New Zealand, Australia, and the Netherlands.

One of the most decorated athletes at these Olympics will be New Zealand sculler Mahe Drysdale, eyeing his third Olympic gold. The Kiwi will be four months away from turning 43 when the Games takes place, as he attempts to claim a fourth consecutive men’s single sculls medal. The veteran will have stiff competition from double Olympic silver medallist Damir Martin of Croatia, Rio 2016 bronze medallist Kjetil Borch and Germany’s Oliver Zeidler.

Brothers Martin Sinković and Valent Sinkovic claimed gold at Rio 2016 in double sculls but have since switched to the men's pair. The Croatian's won the pair title at the 2019 World championships as they look to fill the shoes left by back-to-back Olympic gold medal-winning kiwi pair Eric Murray and Hamish Bond. With Murray retiring, Bond is now focused on the men's eight.

Norway's Olaf Tufte will also be one to watch. The single and double sculls gold medallist will be competing at Olympics number seven.

In the women's races, Ireland's single sculls reigning World Champion Sanita Puspure will be one to watch along with New Zealand's Emma Twigg and USA's Kara Kohler, who hopes to add to her bronze from London 2012.

Two-time Olympic champion in the women's pair Helen Glover announced in January 2021 her aim of returning to the boat for Tokyo having become a mother, but her Rio partner Heather Stanning remains retired, meaning current world champion pair Kerri Gowler and Grace Prendergast are the hottest contenders for gold in 2021. Australia’s Jessica Morrison and Annabelle McIntyre will also be fancied. Both the kiwis and Australians medalled twice at the 2019 Rowing World Championships, in the pair and the eight, which is sure to be an exciting race in Tokyo.

Olympic rowing competition format at Tokyo 2020

Rowing is the act of moving a boat down a straight 2,000m course using oars.

Unlike canoeing, where athletes are forward-facing, rowers do not look where they are going and instead have their backs to the direction of the movement. Some the team events include an additional person in the boat, a 'cox', who doesn't row but instead helps steer the boat and co-ordinate their rowers.

Rowing is generally broken into two events - sculling and sweep.

The key difference between the events is technique. Sculling requires holding two oars - one in each hand, as opposed to sweep rowing with just oar is held together with both hands.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic regatta in 2021 includes an even split of seven men's and seven women's events.

  • Single Sculls (1x) (Men/Women)
  • Pair (2-) (Men/Women)
  • Double Sculls (2x) (Men/Women)
  • Four (4-) (Men/Women)
  • Quadruple Sculls (4x) (Men/Women)
  • Eight (8+) (Men/Women)
  • Lightweight Double Sculls (2x) (Men/Women)

Olympic rowing schedule at the Tokyo 2020 Games in 2021

Competition takes place over eight days, from 23rd to 30th July 2021

All times are Japan Standard Time (UTC +9 hours)

Date and Time: Fri 23 July 2021, 8:30 - 12:10

  • Men's Single Sculls Heats
  • Women's Single Sculls Heats
  • Men's Double Sculls Heats
  • Women's Double Sculls Heats
  • Men's Quadruple Sculls Heats
  • Women's Quadruple Sculls Heats

Date and Time: Sat 24 July 2021, 8:30 - 12:30

  • Women's Single Sculls Repechages
  • Men's Single Sculls Repechages
  • Women's Double Sculls Repechage
  • Men's Double Sculls Repechage
  • Women's Pair Heats
  • Men's Pair Heats
  • Lightweight Women's Double Sculls Heats
  • Lightweight Men's Double Sculls Heats
  • Women's Four Heats
  • Men's Four Heats

Date and Time: Sun 25 July 2021, 9:00 - 11:40

  • Men's Single Sculls Semifinals E/F
  • Women's Single Sculls Semifinals E/F
  • Men's Pair Repechage
  • Women's Pair Repechage
  • Lightweight Men's Double Sculls Repechages
  • Lightweight Women's Double Sculls Repechages
  • Men's Quadruple Sculls Repechage
  • Women's Quadruple Sculls Repechage
  • Men's Eight Heats
  • Women's Eight Heats

Date and Time: Mon 26 July 2021, 9:00 - 11:20

  • Women's Single Sculls Quarterfinals
  • Men's Single Sculls Quarterfinals
  • Women's Double Sculls Semifinals
  • Men's Double Sculls Semifinals
  • Women's Four Repechage
  • Men's Four Repechage

Date and Time: Tue 27 July 2021, 8:30 - 12:00

  • Men's Single Sculls Semifinals C/D
  • Women's Single Sculls Semifinals C/D
  • Lightweight Men's Double Sculls Final C
  • Lightweight Women's Double Sculls Final C
  • Men's Quadruple Sculls Final B
  • Women's Quadruple Sculls Final B
  • Men's Quadruple Sculls Final A
  • Women's Quadruple Sculls Final A
  • Men's Quadruple Sculls Victory Ceremony
  • Men's Pair Semifinals A/B
  • Women's Quadruple Sculls Victory Ceremony
  • Women's Pair Semifinals A/B
  • Lightweight Men's Double Sculls Semifinals A/B
  • Lightweight Women's Double Sculls Semifinals A/B

Date and Time: Wed 28 July 2021, 8:30 - 11:40

  • Women's Double Sculls Final B
  • Men's Double Sculls Final B
  • Women's Four Final B
  • Men's Four Final B
  • Women's Double Sculls Final A
  • Men's Double Sculls Final A
  • Women's Double Sculls Victory Ceremony
  • Women's Four Final A
  • Men's Double Sculls Victory Ceremony
  • Men's Four Finals A
  • Women's Four Victory Ceremony
  • Women's Eight Repechage
  • Men's Four Victory Ceremony
  • Men's Eight Repechage
  • Women's Single Sculls Semifinals A/B
  • Men's Single Sculls Semifinals A/B

Date and Time: Thu 29 July 2021, 8:30 - 11:50

  • Men's Single Sculls Final F
  • Women's Single Sculls Final F
  • Men's Single Sculls Final E
  • Women's Single Sculls Final E
  • Men's Pair Final A
  • Women's Pair Final A
  • Men's Pair Victory Ceremony
  • Lightweight Men's Double Sculls Final A
  • Women's Pair Victory Ceremony
  • Lightweight Women's Double Sculls Final A
  • Lightweight Men's Double Sculls Victory Ceremony
  • Men's Pairs Final B
  • Lightweight Women's Double Sculls Victory Ceremony
  • Women's Pairs Final B
  • Lightweight Men's Double Sculls Final B
  • Lightweight Women's Double Sculls Final B
  • Women's Single Sculls Final D
  • Men's Single Sculls Final D

Date and Time: Fri 30 July 2021, 8:45 - 10:55

  • Women's Single Sculls Final C
  • Men's Single Sculls Final C
  • Women's Single Sculls Final B
  • Men's Single Sculls Final B
  • Women's Single Sculls Final A
  • Men's Single Sculls Final A
  • Women's Single Sculls Victory Ceremony
  • Women's Eight Final A
  • Men's Single Sculls Victory Ceremony
  • Men's Eight Final A
  • Women's Eight Victory Ceremony
  • Men's Eight Victory Ceremony

Olympic rowing venue at Tokyo 2020

The rowing competition at the Games in 2021 takes place by the waterfront, near central Tokyo, at the Sea Forest Waterway.

There is a maximum capacity of 16,000 for rowing. The venue will also be shared with canoe.

After the Games, the venue is set to become one of the leading water sports locations in Asia, hosting international rowing competitions.

Olympic rowing history

While rowing's history dates back centuries, it became a competitive sport only in the last 200 years.

Rowing was introduced to the Olympic programme in Athens, Greece, in 1896, but the event was cancelled due to poor weather so the sport did not make it's debut until four years later in Paris. Originally only men competed, and the women's competition was included at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal.

The United States showcased their rowing talents by winning gold in 1900 and 1904, and to this day have remained the most dominant country in the sport with a total of 89 medals, 33 of them gold.

Great Britain are also consistent in the sport, winning gold at every Games since 1984. It's an achievement they have only managed in rowing.

Rowing has a rich history in Britain, made popular with the famous rivalry between Oxford and Cambridge Universities. This traditional Varsity Boat Race, which continues today, has taken place since 1829 on River Thames in London and has been held annually since 1856, except for COVID-19 and the First and Second World Wars.


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